One of the sickest nonviolent pranks I have ever come across.
I have known complete bastards. I have even been accused of being an insensitive twat myself on occasion. But very few acts I have heard of compare to the utterly irresponsible stunt recently pulled by a Mr Jason Fortuny. Obviously, this is my opinion, but read on and see what you think.
The internet, possibly mankind's greatest achievement to date; the repository for its collective knowledge, wisdom and experience, all accessible to practically anyone at the touch of a few buttons. It is well known that knowledge is power and both are seductive. Not all knowledge and power are bad however, and when Mr Simon Owens conducted his little Craigslist experiment, no-one was seriously harmed - though some people's time was wasted.
Craigslist, noded in more detail elsewhere, is effectively an internet-based classifieds page. Anything from cars to toasters to offers of one-night-stands is posted and it is the latter category that caught Owens' eye. As a little social investigation, he posted a classified ad claiming to be a single woman and, after a certain amount of time derived some statistics from the answers and added them to his blog, no personal details, no personal messages, and an apology to those who had had their time wasted. So far, so ethical, but Owens is not what this node is about. This node is about Fortuny and he took the whole thing several stages further.
"If a really malicious person wanted to get on Craigslist and ruin a lot of people's lives, he easily could." - Simon Owens
Fortuny, having asked around, was sent a picture and profile from a (alleged) female BDSM enthusiast asking for a muscular "white or latin man" to dominate her. The full invitation is very explicit and quite extreme, though nothing illegal (in the States) is implied. Fortuny took this text and posted it to Craigslist, thus far effectively emulating Owens. Predictably the responses pored in, many accompanied by pictures, many of the pictures simply of their senders' erect penises, he even had some phone-messages left on the voicemail of the number he provided.
It is at this point that Fortuny commits the act for which I despise him. Had he kept the information to himself and merely posted statistics and commentary, that would be understandable and even perhaps interesting. Had he used the information he gathered about people's sex lives to manipulate them, that would have been reprehensible but would at least have been motivated by ordinary selfishness. Instead, however, Fortuny posted all of the responses he gained, including – if they provided them – their real names and contact details, to the wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica. There is no possible explanation for this aside from pure malice.
There were effectively three types of responses. Firstly, there were the people on Fortuny's side who believed that it was his victims' own fault, that they should learn their lesson, never give out traceable contact details on the internet and that it is alright to laugh at them as they worry about what their mothers will think when they find out. Secondly, there were people like me who argue that everyone should be able to converse in private and know that information about their doings will not be published without their consent and that to do so is very wrong since it could potentially ruin lives. Thirdly there were the victims themselves who were fearing for their marriages and jobs.
The most prominent victims of this prank were a couple in an open marriage. The husband, with his wife's consent and knowledge had replied to the ad, giving enough information to allow him to be personally identified. He contacted Fortuny through his livejournal account and later through an instant messenger client. Clearly angry, he asked for his details to be removed, and when pressed gave details of he and his wife's relationship, specifically that it was a private matter and they did not want everyone to know about it. Fortuny's response was a refusal and a refusal to be pressed on the issue until either he had "independently verified" their story or the courts were involved, though he appeared to suspect that any attempt at legal action was unlikely. If their story is true, and in fairness it is possible it isn't, then the couple have good reason for keeping their lifestyle a secret; their families are religious and are extremely unlikely to approve. In my opinion, to brazenly and shamelessly do something that may cause that sort of strife is utterly unacceptable.
Fortuny may have blundered slightly though. Until very late on in his escapade he left his own personal details (including address) free to view. It has been pointed out that he has been threatened with violence by one of the people involved and has attracted the ire of many more. Horrible though his act was, he probably does not actually deserve a lynching.
It is still too soon to tell what the outcome of all this will be. The list of names Fortuny posted ran into the hundreds and doubtless many will not have yet found out about their public display. Nevertheless, several people have also pointed out that it is possible that legal action may be taken against him and that he is unlikely to be able to defend himself successfully without serious financial backing. Worryingly though, several of the respondents were married men and so it is certainly possible that even if legal action is successful, some divorces may result.
In the long term people who have heard about this prank are likely to be much more careful about what information they display and to whom they make it available. Whether this is a good thing or not is personal opinion, but personally, I cannot see anything encouraging people to be less open with others as being positive.
DoubleD has raised the issue that by posting this on here, I am "participating in the information's dissemination." I cannot deny that he has a point. However, I did consider this carefully before noding, and perhaps should have included my conclusions from the outset. As it is, here they are:
This story has become something of a meme; it has already hit Slashdot and the BBC has commented on it. Both of these sites are far larger than e2, each with thousands upon thousands of readers. Therefore, any damage done by my writeup would be minimal in comparison.
That said, it is nevertheless possible that my writing this piece could lead the wrong person to Fortuny's prank. Therefore, in noding this writeup I am being somewhat hypocritical.
However, I felt that it would be more hypocritical not to do so. My reasoning was that only people sympathetic to Jasony can node an account of his prank without fear of hypocrisy and that such a sympathetic account would be far more likely to encourage people to read the list of names and personal details that he posted. It is the nature of e2 that a writeup would eventually exist on this subject and I would prefer it to be one that actively discourages people from reading through the prank.
August 5, 2008 It appears some legal action may be about to be taken against Mr. Fortuny. I am not familiar enough with the privacy laws of the USA to comment on whether it should be successful or not. Some commentary can be found here: http://www.10zenmonkeys.com/2008/08/04/craigslist-troll-gets-sued/
The following URL contains the list of names. Please think very carefully about visiting this. Some of the information on this page was posted without permission and is extremely sensitive. Oh, and Cletus the Foetus informs me that it contains sexually explicit imagery as well.